As part of its drive to make the region more accepting and aware of neurodiversity, the North East Autism Society will no longer use the popular symbol of autism, an isolated jigsaw puzzle piece, in any of its homes, schools or publications.
Far from being just a fun image to represent the one in every 100 people in the region thought to be autistic, the jigsaw icon was made popular by some British autism organisations and then controversial American charity, Autism Speaks, and can have more sinister undertones.
John Phillipson, Chief Executive Officer of the North East Autism Society, explained.
He said: “Families in the UK, like any of us, take to the internet when it comes to seeking out information, help and guidance for their children. It takes nothing more than a cursory glance on Google after typing in ‘autism’ to see hundreds and hundreds of jigsaw pieces representing clubs, charities and support groups.
“But if you take a minute to think about what it’s actually saying, it’s not entirely positive. That people who are neurodiverse somehow have ‘a bit missing’ or need to the pieces of themselves ‘put back together’ buys into a narrative that autism is in and of itself, negative. We don’t believe that. There are challenges, yes. There are co-existing conditions, yes. But is autism something that makes us broken in need of being reassembled? Absolutely not.”
There is also a concern within the autistic community that using imagery that could be synonymous with infancy or childhood feeds into a now largely obsolete belief that autism is something you grow out of in adulthood.
Dad Kieran Rose, himself autistic, believes this is a huge stride forward for autistic people in the UK.
“For too long we just go along with what we are told when it comes to autism. And unfortunately some of the biggest and loudest voices are also some of the most damaging. Autism Speaks still uses language around curing autism, like its a disease. If you remove autism from me, or my autistic children, you take away who we are.
“Proactively stepping away from the seemingly harmless jigsaw puzzle imagery is actually a huge stride forward towards acceptance and celebration of autism and all that it brings to the world.”
The move by the North East Autism Society is the latest step in its ‘Going for Gold’ campaign to coincide with Autism Awareness Week in April 2019.
Family Development manager, Kerrie Highcock added: “I don’t think there is a more aspirational colour. The fact athletes compete to walk away with a gold medal means society understands the significance of using gold as a colour equated with autism and neurodiversity.
“This year we won’t be asking for landmarks to be lit up blue. This year we are Going for Gold. We are celebrating autism, autistic people and the incredible people who work to champion autism acceptance.”
The content / story / organisations / people involved in this release have been included entirely because of their relationship with the ongoing work of the North East Autism Society (NEAS).
NEAS is local charity covering the North East of England, it is a distinct charity in its own right. It not connected to any similarly named national organisation.
NEAS provides extensive services at a local level including family support work, schools, adult services, vocational training, residential homes, short break provision, as well as raising awareness of autism and campaigning about and for families affected by or living with autism.
Autism is a neurodevelopmental condition that affects people’s ability to communicate with and relate to others. Problems arising from these difficulties can lead to feelings of exclusion and isolation.